Conversations are hard

Sometimes I find talking to people very hard. Even people I like a lot. And I’ve been thinking about why.

This (ugh) Quora answer actually summarises it pretty well:

Question askers navigate conversations by asking questions, getting responses, asking more questions, and hoping that they will get a question in return so that they can talk about themselves a little too. They will listen to openly shared stories, but they won’t openly share their own stories.

Open sharers will choose topics about their own lives to share, and hope that the other person will do the same. They will answer questions, but won’t ask them.

What I’ve noticed is that, while I can do “open sharing”, I am much more often a “question asker”. I listen attentively to your stories and I ask questions to help you talk more about whatever is interesting you at the moment.

But what I’ve also noticed, is that it really sucks sometimes when I’m talking to an open sharer, even if I really like the person, when they never switch modes and ask any questions1. In those conversations, it feels like the onus is always on me to switch modes and volunteer some hopefully-interesting thought or anecdote if I want to feel like I’m anything other than my conversational partner’s therapist. Doing that time after time eventually feels like I’m pushing for attention, which is icky and exhausting. I would like to feel like I am interesting to you without having to beg for your attention.

I don’t think that open sharers are bad people; it’s just how they’ve learned to interact, and when they talk with other open sharers then it works totally fine for them. But sometimes it feels like they are oblivious to the fact that not everyone is the same as them. They might not even realise they are an open sharer, since their mode is by default the one that “creates” conversation.

Think about what kind of conversationalist you are. Really think about it. In your last conversation with your good friend, did you ask them any questions? Have a scroll up. When was the last time you asked them anything meaningful at all? Has it been a while? Guess what, buddy: you might be an open sharer.

My suggestion to all you open sharers out there, if you actually care about how the person you are talking to feels: pay attention in your conversations, and if it feels like your partner hasn’t said much, then maybe ask them a fucking question or two.

  1. OK, to be fair, conversations with an extreme question asker can also be pretty unpleasant; even for another question asker they can feel like an interrogation.